Film review by Lee Medcalf

Starring: Megumi Okina , Misaki Ito , Misa Uehara

Dir: Takashi Shimizu

Horror movies, once a single genre under a single banner, now seem to require reclassification: no longer is "slasher flick" or "ghost story" enough to give you an idea of what’s in store for those that venture in to the darkened cinema. Now it seems the definition needs to be Eastern or Western horror.

Western horror is low on subtlety, high on gore, while the new breed of horror from the East, clawing its way over to the Western world, relies on disturbing imagery and atmosphere to draw the chills out of an audience.

"Why", the Japanese directors reason, "throw a bucket of blood and plastic limbs all over the screen when a two minute shot of a ghostly child walking towards the camera in a strange jerky motion will do a better job?"

The Ring proved this, and so did Hideo Nakata’s second movie Dark Water: atmosphere and creepy children are infinitely more scary than a guy with bad skin, a Dennis the menace T-shirt, CGI and a string of droll one-liners.

All of which brings us to the latest of the Japanese horror break out movies, Ju-On, or The Grudge as it is also known. If you believe the posters it's “The scariest film I have ever seen”, claims one Sam Rami, although the fact that he is producing the US remake it has nothing to do with it…. HONEST!

The story revolves around a house, in which we see, in the opening moments, a horrific multiple murder takes place of a wife, child and a pet cat… after which the titles inform us that a Ju-On is "a curse born of a grudge held by someone who dies in the grip of powerful angers. It gathers in the places frequented by that person in life, working its spell on those who come into contact with it and thus creating itself anew."  

With that firmly out of the way, what follows for the next hour and a half is a record of every poor soul who comes in to contact with the house, directly or indirectly. As one person goes in, they find themselves tormented to death by the vengeful and incredibly creepy spirits of the wife and child. Then, much like its horror step-brother Ring, the curse moves in a viral way: as one tormented soul comes in to contact with other people, so the two spirits also torment them to death.

The movie’s strength is obviously the Japanese knack for this kind of horror, as with the aforementioned Ring, Dark Water and also The Eye, Ju-On is extremely atmospheric and manages to pervade every frame with an impending sense of doom and unease. But, unlike the other films, Ju-On goes one step further in trying to throw the viewer off-kilter by employing a Pulp Fiction-style timeline to the proceedings, and telling the story of each doomed victim of the house in clearly defined chapters, with moments that time jump and sometimes overlap each other. Characters that die in one chapter can be alive again in another. This approach works to a certain degree, but is also the film’s biggest failing. Whereas with Ring and Dark Water the haunting and its final scary conclusion was presented as a single story, Ju-On seems to endlessly repeat the same story, but with different characters. This robs the film of its major scare, by exposing us to it over and over again. That’s not to say that the film is without scares, far from it. Ju-On manages to tap in to some pretty raw veins at times. To where not even hiding under your duvet is safe; a strangely terrifying notion that works brilliantly. Once again I have to ask why is it that girls wearing white, with long lank black hair over their faces are so bloody scary? And why do they so often feature in Japanese horror?

Ultimately the repetitiveness of the story leaves you with the feeling that no matter how long this movie runs for, you will never get to a reasonable conclusion or any kind of resolution. This may be the point. After all, the spirits are after vengeance and will never stop, but the film cannot do anything but eventually dull the audience to the scares… almost like someone leaping out at you shouting BOO every fifteen minutes! The first time makes you jump, but after the tenth time, knowing that it happens so regularly significantly diminishes its power.

If this movie, which was made in 2003, and which has already spawned a series of sequels and remakes, had hit these shores before its more famous stable-mates I’m sure it would be held in higher regard in pantheons of the horror genre, but sadly Ring did the same thing, and far better.

Unless explicitly stated, DVD screen captures used in the reviews are for illustrative purposes only, and are not intended to be accurate representations of the DVD image.   While screen captures are generally in their correct aspect ratio, there will often have been changes made to the resolution, contrast, hue and sharpness, to optimise them for web display.

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